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November 22 2012 5 22 /11 /November /2012 04:35

How Olivier Giroud quietly became indispensable to Arsenal's attack

Bring it on: Lukas Podolski celebrates scoring Arsenal's second goal in their win over Montpellier

 

Jack's back: Jack Wilshere scored his first goal for two years

 

Arsenal's Olivier Giroud takes on the Montpellier defence
Arsenal's Olivier Giroud takes on the Montpellier defence during the Champions League match at the Emirates Stadium. Photograph: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP

Thierry Henry has jetted out of town having cheered on Arsenal in the north London derby in his cherry-red hoody and set a few tongues wagging about another return to his spiritual football home.

 

Any discussions about the ramifications of another handful of nostalgic cameos from their record goalscorer have more than a hint of deja vu. Was Arsène Wenger not enthusing gently about a short-term deal around this time last year to cover for the players who are due to miss a chunk of the winter at the Africa Cup of Nations? Were supporters not mixing their excitement about reviving their Henry love affair with unease about a short-term romance not really dealing with the heart of the matter? The blogger East Lower beautifully described it as "papering over the Chamakhs".

 

Any short-term fix leaves Arsenal in a similar position to the one they were in this time last year. Then, Robin van Persie was just one heavy tackle, or a pulled muscle, away from leaving his team with a great big hole up front. It was their immense good fortune that the Dutchman made it to the end of the season with an almost unblemished injury record. This time, something similar is happening with Olivier Giroud.

 

While the imposing Frenchman – who arrived last summer fresh from a season as Ligue 1's top scorer – is a very different animal to his predecessor and though he has a way to go to reach the levels Van Persie consistently reaches, he has become his team's undoubted attacking focal point. And there is no obvious replacement within the squad should Giroud find himself sidelined.

 

Lukas Podolski could have a go but he seems so much better suited to his role on the left. Theo Walcott would like a turn but Wenger has rejected the idea he has the faculties to lead the line. Gervinho has had the odd cameo but with erratic results. The mirage of Marouane Chamakh scarcely makes the bench these days.

 

It has become increasingly clear over the past few weeks that Giroud has become a leading light in Arsenal's attacking strategy. He demonstrated that again against his old club Montpellier by racking up yet more assists for his collection. They were impressive in their variety too. The first was a classic big-man knock-down where he hung in the air to nod the ball on for Jack Wilshere to flick in the opening goal. Then Giroud found his inner Alex Song, and scooped a deft pass for Lukas Podolski to volley in with stirring ferocity.

 

The Frenchman's statistics are encouraging now. Despite a slow start, when Wenger even felt it necessary to remove him from the starting XI firing line between September and October, seven goals and six assists from 11 starts in Arsenal colours tells of a compelling improvement.

 

"Olivier is a guy who fights for the team," said Wenger. "Technically it was not one of his best games tonight but after the game when you measure his performance it's decisive many times. He had two assists and defensively he is always reliable. When he's a target man and uses his link play he is fantastic as he can win the ball in the air, score with his feet and can be the complete striker."

 

Wenger acknowledged that Giroud felt a little anxious about being compared to Van Persie. "Who wouldn't? But life is like that and you can only make your life with your own qualities." Giroud has quietly transformed himself from a newcomer feeling the pressure to an integral – and indispensable – part of Arsenal's plan.

 

It's inevitable that there is a feeling of evolution about their attack, with such fundamental change over the summer. Looking to three new imports to shoulder the load largely carried by Van Persie last season was always going to need some adjustment. Overall, the goals have flowed freely enough. They are scoring an average of 2.3 goals per game this season, with the goals being shared around a broader base (Walcott has 9, Giroud 7, Podolski 7, Gervinho 5 and Santi Cazorla 4).

 

For the second game in succession, Arsenal picked a squad without a single striker on the bench and those games were two vital matches – a high-intensity London derby and a Champions League game that was decisive for qualification. The options if things did not go to plan offensively were wafer thin. As things turned out, results meant that could be overlooked but injuries to the likes of Giroud and Podolski would be severely testing. Henry's second, second coming may be tempting but it may not be the answer.

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